The Ashbys of Tysoe, Joseph Ashby of Tysoe (1859-1919) and Hannah Ashby (1861-1950), Steve Milton
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Steve Milton

Joseph Ashby of Tysoe (1859-1919) and Hannah Ashby (1861-1950)

"His life was remarkable, encapsulating in many aspects the ideal of the self-improving working man, and embracing most of the institutions—the nonconformist chapel, trades unionism, and working-class Liberalism—that so clearly represented social and political betterment in the later years of the nineteenth century."

Joseph Ashby (1859-1919)

Joseph Ashby (1859-1919)

Joseph was born 13 Jun 1859, son of Elizabeth Ashby, an unmarried servant. Who was his father? A handwritten note is M.K. Ashby's records at the Warwick record office states "During his visit from Canada, William [M.K's brother] told me about the following incident:- Two old men told him the circumstances of Joseph Ashby's birth. Grandmother Elizabeth was acting as maid at Idlicote House to the wife of Lord Edward(?) [sic] Compton, son of the Marquis of Northampton." Another Ashby descendent tells me that family tradition has it that Joseph was the son of the brother of the then Marquess of Northampton. Idlicote house was owned at the time by one Henry Keighly-Peach, a descendent of a gentrified Gloucestershire clothier family; if we could find out who was tenanting the house in 1858 we could perhaps confirm Joseph's parentage.

M.K. Ashby in "Joseph Ashby of Tysoe" describes Joseph's father's family thus: "A family of very high rank, great landowners of in Warwickshire and neighbouring counties.... and some, though not great, achievement in science and letters". This fits the Compton family perfectly; Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton was president of the Royal Society, and corresponded with Charles Darwin. The archivist at Castle Ashby (home of the Northamptons) tells me "I normally treat rumours/allegations of illegitimate Compton offspring with a fair amount of distain for they can usually be shown to be wrong but the evidence you produce deserves to be taken more seriously... I am pretty certain there is nothing in the archives about an illegitimate offspring but I do not think I would expect anything anyway. Should any smoking gun exist, I imagine it would be in some lawyer's office."

Joseph left school at eleven and worked on a farm in Tysoe before being employed in quarrying in nearby Hornton. Later he worked as a builder at Compton Wynyates; it was while here that he first came into contact with Lord William George Spencer Scott Compton Compton (1851-1913), later fifth Marquess of Northampton, who was possibly Joseph's step-brother.

Elizabeth bought up Joseph as Christian; in his teens and against her wishes he joined the Methodists. Joseph attended one of the meetings of the farmworkers union leader Joseph Arch. Although only a boy, he decided to join the union when he could. Elizabeth's reaction to this was curious; she burnt some papers - perhaps relating to Joseph's more esteemed ancestry. "That's done," said Elizabeth presently, "you join the Union as soon as they'll let you." Also at this time, he came into contact with the third great influence of is life - the friendly society movement which gave him a belief in self-help.

By his late teens, he had found work with the Ordinance Survey, carrying instruments and taking simple measurements with a firm of surveyors in the Tysoe area; it was while working with the survey that he met Bolton King, the educationalist and sociologist, who was at that time a young Oxford graduate. King had found his vocation in social reform, and was closely involved in the foundation of Toynbee Hall, in the East End of London (Britain's first university settlement, a place where students from Oxford University and Cambridge University could work among, and improve the lives of the poor during their holidays). Through his association with King and his contacts with local Liberalism Joseph began writing on the problems of rural life. He also collaborated with King on a survey of local villages. The methods employed were later used by the ministry of agriculture for its survey farm labour conditions during the first world war. Writing for the local press remained a source of income for the rest of Joseph's life. His areas of interest included allotments, small-holdings, and the reform of land ownership.

A young Hannah Ashby

A young Hannah Ashby

Joseph married his cousin Hannah Ashby in 1885. Hannah was the daughter of William Ashby. She was a domestic servant, at the time of her marriage working for a family at Ryde on the Isle of Wight.

Their first home was a cottage in "the Dock", an old houseless farmyard off the street. "It had two small rooms on the ground, one with a rough stone wall, the other a floor of beaten earth. Upstairs were also two small rooms, the sills of their tiny windows flush with the floor... Hannah had no range for cooking, only an open fire with a shallow oven of 17th century pattern under it".

In 1880's Joseph made contact again with Earl William Compton; According to MK Ashby, Compton was at the time residing at Castle Ashby in Northamptonshire, and Joseph working nearby. Joseph had "stood in the road, waylaying his carriage. He met with recognition and welcome; an interview was arranged". He persuaded Compton (now a liberal MP) to let a farm to the Tysoe Allotments Association for division into allotments and small-holdings himself becoming one of the first tenants.

From 1886 until 1910 he was an active and important figure in Warwickshire Liberalism, and from 1883 to 1906 he acted as Liberal agent for the southern part of the Rugby constituency. He spent the summer of 1893 as a travelling lecturer in one of the English Land Restoration League's "red vans", arguing for allotments, small-holdings, and the restoration of the land to the people through land nationalization.

By the 1890's, Joseph's various activities bought him a number of suggestions for gaining work outside Tysoe. Earl Compton wrote offering to find him a place on the Northampton estates (its hard not to speculate that the Earl knew of Joseph's parentage). Later the Earl was to contact Joseph again, asking him to be a Liberal candidate for the parliamentary division of Stratford.

Church Cottage

Church Cottage

With a legacy from Hannah's aunt Hannah Rouvray, they were able to move, in 1895, into Church cottage, Tysoe, "a small old house that had been brought up to date by a porch and bay window and by enclosing a passage off the rooms so that it had a modern privacy ... at the back the house was old fashioned and practical enough. There was a small room used later as a dairy, and a fair sized yard with sheds." In 1900, they moved into the Orchards, a little farmstead in Lower Tysoe.

In 1902 there was a fire at the Orchards: "The brigade was called out at 6.30 in the morning to find that a chimney was on fire... The brigade saved a large area of the roof with the little engine and with help from all the bystanders". The Tysoe fire brigade had been formed in 1897, and had a "horse drawn curricle fire engine" donated by the Marquess of Northampton. Its story has been related by Kevin Wyles.

In the 1900s he became a parish and district councillor and a justice of the peace.

Early in 1914 Josephs's scattered hundred acres in Tysoe were exchanged for a 200-acre holding, Coldstone Farm, at Ascott under Wychwood in Oxfordshire, where he died on 4 March 1919.

Details of some of Robert's children and their spouses follow:

Arthur Wilfred Ashby (1886-1953), agricultural economist

Having left the village school a little before his twelfth birthday, young Ashby spent the next eleven years helping his father in the multifarious duties of small farmer, self-taught surveyor, Methodist lay preacher, poor-law guardian, organizer of village clubs, and local agent for the Liberal Party.

Arthur Ashby

Arthur Ashby

He was educated at Ruskin College from 1909, and was awarded the Oxford University Diploma with honours in economics and political science in 1911.

From 1912, a scholarship in agricultural economics, one of the first awarded by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, took him to Institute for Research in Agricultural Economics at Oxford and the University of Wisconsin.

In 1915 he returned to the Oxford institute. Arthur's background meant that to him agricultural economics could never be an arid exercise. Hence his untiring work on the many official and voluntary bodies on which he served. From 1917 to 1919 he was seconded to the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries, where he had a big share in shaping the first Agricultural Wages Board and in the work of the food production department. In 1919 he was appointed member of the Royal Commmission on Agriculture. In 1923 and 1924 he was a member of the Linlithgow Departmental Committee on Prices of Farm Produce. He also became impartial member of the National Agricultural Wages Board in 1924 and a member of the Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Agriculture. His knowledge of milk marketing was probably unequalled, and, in the background, he played a big part in designing the Milk Marketing Board for England and Wales. Finally, he welcomed the opportunity, which service on the awarding committee for scholarships to the sons and daughters of rural workers gave him, to express his lifelong interest in the education of country children.

Back at the institute he was senior research assistant, and in 1922 he married Rhoda, daughter of John Dean Bland. They had one son, Andrew, who also became an agricultural economist.

In 1924 Arthur went to Aberystwyth as head of the new department of agricultural economics in the University College of Wales. From 1929 to 1945 he was Professor of Agricultural Economics (the first such professorship in the UK). In 1946 he returned to the institute at Oxford as director; he held the post until his retirement in 1952. In 1949 he went to India as an advisor on agricultural economics.

He wrote a number of publications on agricultural, social and legal history, including contribution on the administration of the poor law in Tysoe (1912) for Oxford Studies in Social and Legal History edited by Paul Vinogradoff, and history of allotments and small-holdings (1917); his writings on this topic has not been superseded. Other writings are scattered in many journals.

Throughout his life he remained true to his radical-reformist upbringing. In politics he was a supporter of the Labour Party, yet successive Labour governments failed to utilize effectively his unrivalled knowledge of the problems facing British agriculture.

He was appointed CBE in 1946. A justice of the peace, he sat on the bench both in Cardiganshire (1940-46) and in Oxfordshire (1946-53). He died at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, on 9 September 1953.

Elsie May Ashby (1888-1957)

Elsie, and Janet Rouvray with their mother Hannah at Milton under Wychwood

Elsie, and Janet Rouvray with their
mother Hannah at Milton under Wychwood

Elsie never married, staying with the family and working on the farm as a youngster, and looking after Hannah at their final home in Milton under Wychwood.

Postcard from Joseph to Elsie

Postcard from Joseph to Elsie

In 1904, aged 16, Elsie was in Wrockwardine Hall, Wellington, Shropshire. We still have the post card she received from her father Joseph.

Harold Richard Ashby (1890-)

Dick Ashby and his wife Alice

Dick Ashby and his wife Alice

Dick and Alice had four children

Mabel Kathleen Ashby (1892-1975)

In 1907 Mabel won a scholarship to Warwick High school, where she became a weekly boarder. From there, she wan a King's scholarship to Birmingham University. This was a government grant conditional on undertaking to train as a teacher. She took a B.A. degree in her first three years, and stayed on to take an M.A. in philosophy. While she was at the training college, she successfully organised in her second year a Women's club for providing student amenities such as provision of common rooms and proper meals.

M.K. Ashby

M.K. Ashby

On leaving college she was appointed to a post as instructress of Rural Pupil Teachers in Staffordshire. This meant working in remote villages, travelling by train, bicycle or pony-and-trap, talking with teachers and giving lessons to small groups receptive boys and girls.

After a summer term as a temporary lecturer at Bingley College in Yorkshire, in 1919 she became Warden of a Hall of Residence for teachers in training in Bristol University. In 1924 she answered what she regarded as a "call" to accept the post of Advisory Teacher to Rural Schools, a post created for her by Henry Morris, the famous director of Education in Cambridgeshire. After some years of this "lonely and strenuous" work (it involved frequent changes of location, and dealing with sometimes resentful head teachers), she fell ill and returned to her cottage in Shennington that she shared with her lifelong friend Margaret Philips. She spent the next year recuperating and writing "The Country School: its Problems and Practice" (probably the thesis she submitted for the M.Ed. degree which she was awarded by Manchester University in 1930).

She next accepted a temporary post as Education Lecturer at Salisbury Training College, and the following year she was accepted to a similar, but established, post at Goldsmiths College, London.

In 1933 she applied for and was appointed to the post of Principal of the residential College for Working Women, usually known as Hillcroft from the name of its house at Surbiton. The college provided a year's course of liberal education for women who had to leave school early, but who had since shown an interest in and capacity for further study.

She retired in 1946, but the next thirty years were filled with creative activity. She began to travel, some of her accounts of which were later published in "Countywomans Occasions". She later moved, with Margaret Philips, to a farmhouse in Bledington, near Stow on the Wold. It was here that she wrote "Joseph Ashby of Tysoe", which was published in 1961. It was awarded the James Tait black memorial prize for biography in that year. However, the accolade which she perhaps most appreciated was the tribute paid by E.P. Thompson, the Marxist historian of the English working class. He so admired the book that he made a point of seeking the acquaintance of the author, and paid several visits to Bledington. Her next literary venture was to write a history of Bledington, "The Changing English Village"

She was successively President of the Womens Institute and Chairman of the Parish Council at Bledington. She died October 16th, 1975 in an Oxford nursing home.

Daisy Agnes Ashby (1894-1910)

Daisy Ashby

Daisy Ashby

Daisy was killed by lightening, aged only 16. A news report of the time:

Storm Tragedy. Miss Daisy Ashby age 16, daughter of Joseph Ashby of Tysoe, was killed by lightening at a lone farmhouse at Lower Boddington. The lightening entered the kitchen by the chimney, striking all the occupants. the girl was killed together with a dog, while a man was badly burned and two children escaped injury. Dr Hope of Byfield said the girl had undoubtedly died from the effect of the strike; her death was instantaneous".

Joseph William Ashby (1896-1982)

William, a farmer, married Ethel in 1921, in Churchill, Oxon. They later emigrated to Canada, where they lived at Prescott, Ontario. They had two children.

William Ashby (off to war in 1916)

William Ashby
(off to war in 1916)

William and Ethel celebrate their 50th Wedding anniversary at Prescott

William and Ethel celebrate
their 50th Wedding
anniversary at Prescott

Anna Sybil (1898-1980) (my grandmother)

A young Sybil Ashby

A young Sybil Ashby

Sybil's certificate in butter making from 1913

Sybil's certificate in butter
making from 1913

Sybil helped out on the farm as a young woman, "the Victorian father was forced to give way and Sybil rode the haymaking machines as blithely as any boy".

She married William Hancock, a farm worker from Stow on the Wold in Gloucestershire. They had five children.

The county offered short residential courses at the Dairy Institute at one of George Eliot's early homes. The "Director of Education" is Joseph's friend Bolton King

Janet Rouvray Ashby (1900-)

A young Janet Ashby

A young Janet Ashby

Janet became a primary school teacher. She married Henry Cook, and had two children.

Contributed by Steve Milton
Email: stevemilton23(@)
To contact Steve Milton, copy and paste the address and remove the brackets around the @ - thank you.